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Nico Rosberg pulls clear in title race after Lewis Hamilton's horror start

Nico Rosberg has taken a potentially significant step towards the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship with a dominant fourth win in five races in the Japanese Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton could only manage third.

Rosberg, who started from pole position, controlled the race throughout and finished 4.9 seconds ahead of Verstappen, who held off Hamilton in close racing over the final few laps.

Rosberg has been quickest all weekend with Hamilton forced to play second fiddle after being cruelly robbed of victory in Malaysia by a blown engine six days ago.

While Rosberg jumped into the race lead from pole position, Hamilton had a forgettable one, ending up in eighth place when the dust had settled.

Once the five red lights disappeared Hamilton then bogged down and was swamped, slotting into eighth and apologising to his team shortly afterwards.

Ricciardo has 212 points with a 42-point buffer over the fourth-placed Kimi Raikkonen.

"I did as well as I could I think", said Hamilton, who courted controversy this week by hinting his Malaysia heartbreak may have been caused by sabotage from within Mercedes.

But he got away cleanly this time, while Hamilton fell to eighth, radioing to the pits: "Sorry, guys".

Rosberg's ninth victory of the season means he can now afford to finish second behind Hamilton in all the remaining races and still win the championship.

Vettel drove strongly in the first stint after narrowly avoiding collecting Hamilton off the start to move up to third, but the frustration of losing ground to Hamilton led him to make some angry radio messages, particularly about back markers ignoring blue flags that warn them a faster vehicle is behind and they should let it by.

Insiders believed that Hamilton's decision not to take questions from the written media after qualifying, and say he was planning to limit his future attendances at such conferences, was influenced by the pressure of seeing Rosberg take pole and the title fight going badly.

"The end of qualifying was pretty intense but I had a good feeling - I knew if I put in a decent lap then it should be enough", added the German, whose slender edge over Hamilton was calculated by Mercedes to work out to just 82 centimetres.

Ricciardo said Kimi Raikkonen's grid penalty for a gear box infringement worked against his race plans.

Hamilton tried to overtake at the chicane on the penultimate lap, but Verstappen dived to the inside and the Mercedes driver ran wide when he out-braked himself. Hamilton, after a bit of scurrying, overtaking and pit stop strategising, had to settle for third place.

Every driver finished the race, only the seventh time in 952 world championship races that has happened.